Queer people have existed in every society, often serving as leaders, fighters, healers, and heroes. Whether they are persecuted, tolerated, or celebrated, there are always countless stories of LGBTQ people standing in their truth and helping lead others to do the same. Following are some examples of queer leaders from around the world who are helping to institute positive change.
As the president of the Athens Pride and Queer Collective, Danielle Bonanno is well-known in Athens as a community activist. The collective hosts the annual Athens pride celebrations and creates visibility and community spaces for queer people.
Bonanno is also the founder and Co-Executive Director at Inclusive Recovery Athens, which provides a stigma-free environment for queer people to heal from substance use disorders. Much of her work is focused on healing the trauma found at the intersection of the queer community and the recovery community.
Dusty Church is the Chair of the Board of Directors at the First City Pride Center in Savannah. The center provides a safe space and various resources for local LGBTQ people. Along with hosting fun events like pool parties and open mic nights, the center also hosts local support groups and provides counseling services.
Church also serves on Savannah’s LGBTQ task force, Proud Savannah, which was announced in 2020 by Mayor Van Johnson. The task force created the Proud Savannah History Project, which collects oral histories of local queer people.
Constantly making headlines and viral videos, Dylan Mulvaney is a name people recognize. A proud transgender woman, Mulvaney documents her life and her transition on TikTok, with millions of viewers tuning in every week. Originally intended for just family and friends, as her videos racked up the views, Mulvaney decided to use them as a way to educate and empower trans people and allies.
In a recent red carpet interaction with trans actress and activist Laverne Cox, Mulvaney asked viewers to give trans people in their daily lives the same love and support they give her online. You can follow Mulvaney on TikTok @dylanmulvaney. Trans people in the U.S. can learn about their legal rights at transequality.org/know-your-rights.
Channing Gerard Joseph
Channing Gerard Joseph is a journalist and queer culture historian who is celebrated for his research that rediscovered William Dorsey Swann, a formerly enslaved queer activist who was the first “queen of drag.” Joseph is a celebrated journalist, having written for The New York Times and the Associated Press and currently serving as a professor of journalism at Princeton University.
Although he resides in Berlin, Joseph is a proud descendant of enslaved folks and jazz musicians in New Orleans and his work has an undeniable impact on U.S. history. Joseph recently gave a Ted Talk on how Black queer culture shaped history and is writing a book about Swann. To learn more about his work, visit channingjoseph.com.
Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, aka Sareh
Sareh, a gender nonconforming activist, was detained in Iraq in October 2021 because she spoke out against abuses of LGBTQ people in the region on a BBC documentary. After her release, she tried to cross into neighboring Turkey from Iran. It was there that Sareh and her friend Elham Choubdar were arrested on trafficking charges. The two are being held by the Iranian authorities and were initially given the death sentence, which was lifted in December following international pushback.
For months Amnesty International, LGBTQ rights group All Out, and the United Nations have condemned the detention and original sentencing. To follow the case and learn how to support international queer people in need, visit action.allout.org.
Internationally celebrated Indian Drag Queen Rani Ko-HE-Nur has long served as a fierce LGBTQ rights advocate, using a multitude of platforms to increase queer visibility. Ko-HE-Nur, who goes by Sushant Divgikar out of drag, won the Mr. Gay India pageant in 2014 and has continued to have a career in acting, singing, and public speaking. In 2021, Ko-HE-Nur impressed fans with stunning vocals in the drag singing competition Queen of the Universe.
Last year they were awarded the Drag Hero award from the annual Gay Times Honor Awards and were presented the award at DragCon UK. You can follow Ko-HE-Nur on Instagram @sushantdivgikr, where they are one of the most followed drag queens in the world.